Central climate suits growth of aronia berries

Trial plantings of aronia berries seem successful and may well prove commercially viable. Admiring the aronia blooms are (from left) Barrie Mackie, of Alexandra, and Ross Meldrum, of Alexandra and Dunedin. Photo: Yvonne O'Hara
Trial plantings of aronia berries seem successful and may well prove commercially viable. Admiring the aronia blooms are (from left) Barrie Mackie, of Alexandra, and Ross Meldrum, of Alexandra and Dunedin. Photo: Yvonne O'Hara
Aronia berries, also known as black chokeberries, could become a commercially viable crop for Central Otago in the next few years.

Alexandra nurseryman Barrie Mackie and dental lecturer Ross Meldrum, of Alexandra and Dunedin, have been growing trial plots of the fruit for the past 10 years.

The volume of berries grown and the aronia plants' liking for the Central Otago climate has mean the two men have reached the point where they have set up the Berryactives company and website, ready to sell freeze-dried berry powder online.

They established an early trial plot on Mr Meldrum's Alexandra property about 10 years ago.

Two additional, larger blocks were planted at Mr Mackie's property about six years ago, to determine if the plants could survive in Central Otago's conditions.

And they do.

They love the heat and the UV rays, producing high levels of the antioxidant anthocyanin.

Mr Mackie said the original seed came from overseas and early plants were bought from a South Island nursery.

About 6000 plants were also micro-propagated from tissue samples.

The crop volume had increased each year and had reached three to four tonnes annually.

Mr Meldrum said although they conducted freezing trials in his shed, the increasing volume meant they contracted a freeze-drying business in Christchurch to carry out the process and turn the berries into a powder, packaged and ready for shipment.

The powder could be added to smoothies, baking and other dishes.

''It seems Central Otago has a wonderful synergy of factors to bring the anthocyanin levels up,''Mr Mackie said.

''The big thing with the fruit is its phytochemical make-up and its bioactivity,'' Mr Meldrum said.

''Plant and Food Research had tested the fruit and found the total anthocyanin content [of the Central Otago fruit] was one of the highest in any fruit.''

He said the plants thrived in Alexandra, and produced the high levels in the skin to protect themselves from UV rays. They also produced tannin, which meant they were not susceptible to pests and diseases found in the region.

Mr Meldrum said the berry had been popular in America and Europe as a health-food item.

The region provided an ideal growing environment with high diurnal temperature shifts, cold winters of sufficient length to initiate spring bloom, low humidity to limit potential pathogens, high UV light to enhance polyphenol (anthocyanin) levels and free-draining soils.

The next step was to increase the volume of fruit.

 

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